A new environmental assessment process in British Columbia (B.C.) will ensure a far greater role for First Nations in project approval, open up new avenues for public participation and promise a clear and predictable process for project proponents. Those bold ambitions are woven through a new discussion paper on the revitalization of B.C.’s environmental assessment process.
Environmental assessment reform is one of the elements of the “2017 Confidence and Supply Agreement between the BC Green Caucus and the BC New Democrat Caucus”. The BC Green Party’s support keeps the BC New Democrats in office. The British Columbia Environmental Assessment Revitalization Discussion Paper, released June 18, 2018, received quick praise from Green Party Spokesperson Sonia Furstenau.
“The proposal of a readiness gate that requires consultation with First Nations at the outset will help enable us to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls-to-action and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Strengthening the process of assessing a project’s compatibility with our climate targets will give climate change the prioritization it deserves by recognizing that meeting our targets is an absolute economic, environmental and moral imperative,” she said in a statement.
Reconciliation with First Nations is one of three overarching objectives of the new process. The discussion paper puts forward several novel proposals intended to ensure that First Nations involvement aligns with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action and recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions on Aboriginal title.
The proposals include establishing relationships with First Nations even before a reviewable project is proposed, or at least very early in the process. The purpose would be to arrive at a government-to-government agreement on processes and protocols. The discussion paper also suggests the adoption of a time-bound alternative dispute resolution mechanism where consensus with First Nations cannot be reached.
Many of the other proposals in the discussion paper echo the recent federal impact assessment reforms, such as a statement of purpose, assessment of cumulative effects and social impacts, broadened opportunities for public engagement, clear timelines, participant funding, legislated decision criteria and much more.
Comment on the discussion paper closes July 30, 2018. Learn more here.
A document summarizing all public engagements will be released in late summer 2018. An intentions paper detailing the intended changes is scheduled for release in early fall 2018.